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South Texas groups sue Texas Parks and Wildlife for pursuing land swap deal with SpaceX

A portion of fence line for the 477 acres swapped to Texas Parks and Wildlife sits at a Stripes convenience store in Laguna Vista.
Gaige Davila
A portion of fence line for the 477 acres swapped to Texas Parks and Wildlife sits at a Stripes convenience store in Laguna Vista.

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) is being sued for pursuing a land exchange deal with SpaceX as the company seeks to expand its South Texas facilities.

The South Texas Environmental Justice Network, the Carrizo/Comecrudo Tribe of Texas and Save RGV filed the lawsuit in a Travis County district court last week.

In March, TPWD approved pursuing a swap of 43 acres of Boca Chica State Park to SpaceX in exchange for nearly 500 acres of privately-owned land outside of Port Isabel the company is still in negotiations to purchase.

The approval came despite thousands of public comments and hours of testimony from nearby residents and experts in opposition to the land swap, failing to sway the seemingly set opinion of the commissioners.

“This is just the latest example of our state officials failing to fulfill their obligations to Texans, whenever SpaceX is involved,” Marisa Perales, the attorney representing the groups said in a statement. “Protecting public park land and the public's interest means saying 'no' to the demands of SpaceX, whose space flight activities have caused harm to public lands and wildlife habitats.”

The lawsuit alleges that TPWD violated “statutory requirements, including the requirement to consider alternatives to giving away public park land, the requirement to ensure the minimization of harm to the 43 acres of public park land, and the requirement to consider the best interests of the local community and of TPWD.”

The groups say the land swap is allowing SpaceX to expand its control of Boca Chica Beach and surrounding land, which the company operates access to through Cameron County-sanctioned road closures.

This has particularly disturbed the Carrizo/Comecrudo Tribe of Texas, whose sacred lands include Boca Chica Beach.

“[The] Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission cannot be allowed to give our lands with archeological remains to SpaceX to use as a testing playground,” Juan Mancias, the tribe’s chair, said in a statement.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is giving an environmental assessment of the 477 acres of land offered to the agency by SpaceX, which will include a 30-day public comment period.

TPWD did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Attorneys for the state said during the March vote that the agency would next be exploring how it will acquire the 477 acres.

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Gaige Davila is the Border and Immigration Reporter for Texas Public Radio.